Still today, female scientists face serious motherhood and parenting penalties. For them, starting a career comes at a cost, and many women are leaving the profession for this reason. The transition to a PhD to a faculty position often happens when women are starting or building a family. This is why many female early-career researchers have to take crucial and life-altering decisions based on old-fashioned but persistent attitudes towards parenthood.

A virtual conference involving 46 nations was organized last spring by Mothers in Science (MiS), an international NGO, with the aim to boost recruiting and retention of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) careers. The conference highlighted the "motherhood penalties" that women have to fight against on their way. They suffer from discrimination and inequities in wages and promotion, which often leads them dropping out of full-time STEM workforce.

A previous study by researchers Erin Cech and Mary Blair-Loy revealed that, in the USA, where family-leave policies are sparse or non-existent, 43% of mothers in full-time STEM positions leave after their first child. Overall, scientist-moms are under-represented at high levels of academia in many countries. According to a 2021 study by the American Association of University Women, they represent less than a quarter of the top earners at elite US universities. That is only 1 in 4.

Picture: The parenting penalties faced by scientist mothers (Veronica Cerri, w/Effects)